By Valentin, SX
My mother never went to school. As a house wife, she always worked hard to get our meals ready and on time. Although our family was a poor one, we never experience hunger or thirst. Even when mom could not, she would always force herself to provide our daily bread.
The first day I saw her unable to do so, was when a high fever nailed her to bed. She had tried that evening to hide that she was not feeling well. Noticing that she was almost collapsing, I asked her: “Mom is everything OK?” She replied yes; and yet it was clear that she was not feeling well at all.
I really felt tempted by the devil that evening, because although I’m not a good cook, I was obliged to take my mother’s place in the kitchen…But mom recovered and, as usual, she continued to provide for our daily needs.
One day I saw her bringing home a plastic bag. Inside that plastic bag there was something that looked like a loaf of bread. But it was not bread that mom brought home; it was instead the Holy Bible that she had bought at the parish bookstore.
We were deeply surprised and laughed at our mother. We found it funny for a woman who couldn’t even read to go and buy a Bible. But mom simply said: “Are you surprised? Are you laughing? You should be crying instead. You literate people, do you find it normal that we all are Christians and yet we have no Bible in this house?”
Indeed, in the house, we had other books but the Holy Bible. From that day on, mom would always request, even beg us, to read her pages of the Word of God. She used to say: “I cook for you, you read me the gospel.”
Mom always wanted to go to mass already knowing the readings of the day. The bread she always prepared for us was no longer sufficient to sustain our life. She understood that in order to sustain life, a Christian family needed something else, something more; something different. Not bread alone.
We hear in today’s gospel (Mt 4: 1-11) how Jesus tells the devil who had come to tempt him in the desert that a man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.
Jesus overcomes the devil’s other temptations by clinging to the Word of God. As followers of Jesus, we have no other means to fight the devil except the same means that Jesus himself used.
When I was still a theology student at the Loyola School of Theology in Manila, my professor, in synoptic gospels, used to tell me: “Valentin, once you have reached the gates of Hell, the only thing that can save you is the word of God.”
I do not mean that in coming to Indonesia I reached the gates of Hell but allow me to share with you something that happened to me when I arrived in Indonesia for the first time.
After 19 long hours of flight, the plane that carried me finally landed at the Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in Jakarta. At the immigration desk, an officer checked my passport, and then he asked me to follow him. There was something wrong with my visa, he said.
I was brought into a small office where I was asked several questions: If you are a citizen from the Congo how is it that you got the visa in the Philippines? What is your purpose in coming to Indonesia? What is your profession? How much is your monthly salary?
I told them that I applied for visa at the Indonesian embassy in the Philippines where I’ve been living; I also told them that I was a missionary priest assigned to Indonesia and that priests have no salaries. In addition, I showed the invitation letters from the KWI or the Conference of the Catholic Bishops of Indonesia.
After that the officer made a strange request; he asked me to show the Al Kitab or the Holy Bible. The Bible I was bringing with me was in my luggage which I didn’t know where it was because I was “arrested” before even claiming it. But I showed the small breviary or Book of Psalms which I had put in my carry-on bag.
The officer asked me the last question: Suppose that a young man has sex with a girl and the latter becomes pregnant. According to your Bible is that good or bad? Whether that immigration officer was a Christian or not, I still do not know. But quoting God’s 6th commandment, I told the officer that the Holy Bible condemns adultery, a sin that the two guys had committed.
After passing that strange and unexpected comprehensive exam, the officer stamped my passport and told me: “Selamat datang [di Indonesia]!” (Welcome to Indonesia). After that I went to claim my luggage, walked away and begun my public ministry in Indonesia.
As we hear in the gospel, in the beginning of his ministry Jesus is tempted by the devil with worldly power, pleasure and riches. In order to attain them, all that Jesus needs is to turn away from his relationship with his Father. But Jesus rebukes the devil’s efforts; he fights the temptation with the God’s Word and remains committed to his mission. This great biblical drama of [sin] temptation and salvation is played out in each day of our lives. This tension between pride and humility exists in each one of us.
In the first reading (Gn 2:7-9; 3:1-7), we hear the end of the story of creation. God has created Adam and Eve as companions for each other, and placed them in the Garden of Eden. It is clear that Adam and Eve have special relationship with God. God has provided them with everything that they needed; even though God has provided them with everything, Adam and Eve, in their pride, grasp to become their own God; in their pride they lose all God has given them, but even more importantly they rupture their relationship with the source of their life. In our daily routines, personal and communal sins continue to severely impair our relationship with God, one another and the entire cosmos.
What your temptations are? Do you often yield to them or do you wage a war against them? Are you disappointed with yourself or discouraged because you keep on falling in the same sin and the same temptation which you have attempted to overcome?
Don’t give up. If you have fallen, rise again and ask for God’s grace. By repeating today’s responsorial psalm (Ps 50/51), tell God: “Be merciful, O Lord, for I have sinned.” For as St. Paul says in today’s second reading (Rm 5: 12-19), “the grace of God and the gracious gift of Jesus Christ overflow for the many who have sinned.” It is through grace that our wounded communion and unity are restored and we enjoy anew the blessings of our bread winner, i.e. God, our loving mother/father.
Friends, we are called during this season of Lent to let go of our sinful inclinations, which will allow God’s grace to sustain us and to provide for us. May this season of Lent become a time during which we not only share of our bread in the form of almsgiving but also a time during which we expose God’s Word, a time during which we share the Word of God with the others.
And the way you deal with the Word of God, the amount of time you dedicate to the reading and personal meditation of the Word of God, and the enthusiasm and love with which you make that Word known to the others, tells a great deal about your being disciples of Christ or not.
May God bless you in this season of Lent and may he provide for all your needs.